It took a Floyd County jury less than four hours Wednesday to find Nakotah Javez Smith, 34, guilty of murdering the mother of his newborn son in the West 13th Street apartment they shared.
Crystal Dawn Vega, 30, died on June 18, 2018 — three days after she was shot in the head during their final, fatal fight. Her 2-year-old son and their 1-year-old son were in the home that night. The infant was still in the hospital.
Assistant District Attorney Emily Johnson said the shooting stemmed from Vega’s determination to leave Smith, after suffering physical and mental abuse at his hands.
“He had always been able to get her back, but this time she had had enough,” Johnson told the jury, describing Smith as “controlling, possessive and obsessive.”
In addition to malice murder, the jury convicted Smith on charges of felony murder; two counts of aggravated assault; aggravated battery; two counts of cruelty to children; and possession of a deadly weapon during a crime.
After the verdict was announced, they were told of a ninth count: possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.
The charge had been held back so they would not know during their deliberations that he had a criminal record. After a second round of deliberation, they found him guilty of that charge as well.
Superior Court Senior Judge Walter Matthews said he would sentence Smith in 10 days.
Smith did not testify in his own defense. During the trial, Public Defender Sean Lowe sought to cast doubt on the interpretation of the evidence and witness testimonies.
An alternate view, Lowe contended, is that Vega pulled a gun on Smith during the fight, they struggled and the gun went off.
“It’s so easy to take sides when you have a case that is so gruesome ... to want to find a villain and punish them,” Lowe cautioned the jury. “But emotion is not evidence. Sympathy is not proof.”
Johnson, however, said there is both circumstantial and direct evidence.
In her summation she said the 2-year-old’s statements — to neighbors and in a taped interview with a child advocate — that “Dada shoot. Mama dead” is eyewitness testimony. The testimony of Vega’s sisters and friend of the ongoing abuse, Johnson said, is corroborated by text messages and medical records.
“Those are Crystal’s words,” she said about the texts.
While a gun was never found, Vega was shot with a deadly RIP bullet — a next-generation Radically Invasive Projectile designed to break into eight pieces, each creating its own wound channel. Vega’s sisters testified that Smith had shown them his RIP bullets along with other weaponry and accessories.
Johnson noted that a neighbor testified that Smith left the house with two bags before police arrived and, “that gun was probably in those trashbags the defendant grabbed and went up the road with.”
Smith was taken into custody a week later in Lindale.